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Audit: DIA Great Hall construction project needs more oversight (Local Tips & Reviews)

The auditor found DIA “needs to strengthen its management and oversight of the Great Hall construction project to ensure the best value for the city.”

DENVER — Denver’s auditor on Thursday took airport executives to task for poor money management in the Great Hall project.

Construction on the main terminal at Denver International Airport (DIA) is supposed to eventually move all security checkpoints upstairs to the sixth level. The project began in 2018.

DIA fired its first contractor in 2019 amid delays and construction concerns, paying them $183 million as part of the contract. The new audit is critical of the airport’s management with the second contractor, Hensel Phelps Construction. 

According to a report from Denver auditor Tim O’Brien, the airport might have sidestepped a fair, competitive bidding process in the scramble to find the new contractor, though there is not enough documentation to verify.

O’Brien said his office asked why records of the decision to hire Hensel Phelps were limited. The response was that airport executives told airport managers to keep records to a minimum because of the number of open records requests the airport had received.

Also according to the auditor, as of last August, Hensel Phelps had hired 34 subcontractors for $70 million worth of work, and only 11 had written approval from the airport. The auditor believes the airport was likely overpaying for those contracts by not reviewing how Hensel Phelps made those hires, though documentation lacked.

“We found the dollar amounts for three of the 34 phase two subcontracts were for more money than the vendor originally proposed. This amounted to the airport paying over $1 million more than originally proposed across three subcontracts,” O’Brien’s office said.

There were also concerns about instances when Hensel Phelps used itself as a subcontractor for projects. 

Ultimately, the auditor found DIA “needs to strengthen its management and oversight of the Great Hall construction project to ensure the best value for the city.”

DIA managers said the city attorney’s office gave the greenlight for the Hensel Phelps contract and that it has final say over the companies they work with.

Airline fees, parking, retail and concessions are paying for construction, and while DIA does not use taxpayer money, the airport must get city council approval to spend the money it generates at the airport.

The Great Hall renovations are expected to last through 2028. The Great Hall project is estimated to cost $2.1 billion.

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